Maui News

Sierra Club Sues Health Department Over Underground Storage Tanks

August 22, 2017, 11:12 AM HST
* Updated August 22, 11:19 AM
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The Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the Hawaiʻi Department of Health on Thursday, alleging the department failed to enact underground storage tank rules to protect Hawaiʻi’s groundwater.

Pearl Harbor. File photo by Wendy Osher.

The environmental organization claims a 1992 state law directed the Health Department to enact rules that would require existing underground storage tanks to be upgraded by 1999 to prevent releases of petroleum into the environment.

“This lawsuit ensures that the Department of Health improves its regulations and satisfies its obligation to protect the public’s health and our water supplies. Leaking underground storage tanks pose a threat to our groundwater,” said Marti Townsend, Director for the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi.

The lawsuit includes an outline of concerns relating to the Southern Oʻahu Basal Aquifer that currently serves as the principal source of drinking water for approximately 763,000 permanent residents within the Pearl Harbor area.

“Although the water quality over most of the study area is satisfactory for domestic use, widespread potential exists for degradation,” the lawsuit states. According to the lawsuit, “The main threats to the quality of the basal aquifer include salt water intrusion; recharge from excess irrigation; industrial, military and urban sources; landfills; chemical spills; poorly situated injection wells; and cesspools.”


The complaint also cited an incident in 2014 in which the aquifer leaded petroleum in 2014.


The Sierra Club claims that current DOH regulations do not ensure underground storage tanks are properly upgraded.  The organization claims that the court case highlights the need to “better resource the Department of Health to fulfill its constitutional obligation to protect Hawaiʻi’s drinking water supplies and the public’s health from contamination.”

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